Baltimore Sun

O’s rally before Pillar hits go-ahead homer

- By Jacob Calvin Meyer

ATLANTA — When he played for the Toronto Blue Jays, Kevin Pillar crushed Orioles pitchers more than any other team he played regularly.

New team, same story.

Pillar, now a part-time player for Atlanta, pinch-hit against Baltimore’s Danny Coulombe, one of the club’s best relievers, in the eighth inning Saturday and gave Orioles fans déjà vu, blasting a two-run homer to propel the Braves to a 5-4 win.

“It sucks,” Coulombe said. “Put the ball in the middle of the plate, and he put a really good swing on it. What can you do? That’s baseball.”

Pillar — who entered slashing .321/.353/.515 with an .868 OPS in 360 plate appearance­s against the Orioles — completed the scoring in a back-and-forth game that included several lead changes, as both teams came back from down one to take one-run leads of their own.

Adam Frazier hit a two-run single in the fourth inning to give the Orioles an early 2-1 lead after the Braves took an early lead in the third. Atlanta (23-11) scored one run in both the fourth and fifth to take a 3-2 lead, but Anthony Santander’s RBI double in the sixth followed by an RBI groundout from Frazier gave the Orioles a one-run advantage. The offense couldn’t come back a third time, though, as the Orioles went down in order in the ninth.

Starting pitcher Kyle Bradish bent but didn’t break, allowing three runs on five hits in five innings as he dueled against Braves star Spencer Strider, but the same couldn’t be said for the Orioles’ bullpen. After Cionel Pérez retired four straight batters, Bryan Baker and Coulombe both struggled for the second straight outing.

The Orioles (22-11) will look for their eighth straight series victory Sunday. Despite the loss, the 22-11 start is tied for the second best in club history.

No Cano

The Orioles had a one-run lead in the eighth inning, and manager Brandon Hyde didn’t go to his usual setup man.

That’s because Yennier Cano, who has emerged this season as one of the Orioles’ best bullpen arms, was unavailabl­e to pitch because of workload management, Hyde said after the game. Since he was promoted from Triple-A in mid-April, Cano has pitched more than any other Orioles reliever, totaling 14 scoreless innings in 11 appearance­s while allowing just two hits.

The right-hander pitched 1 ⅓ innings April 30, one frame Tuesday and two innings Thursday — his longest outing by length and pitches (32) this season.

“We were staying away from Cano tonight just because of his workload the last series and two innings a couple days ago,” Hyde said. “Unfortunat­ely, that’s just part of the game. Other guys have to pitch in those spots, and Danny’s done a great job for us so far this year, and [he made] just one bad pitch.”

In the seventh, Baker relieved Pérez after the left-hander’s best outing of the season and immediatel­y allowed two straight runners before inducing an inning-ending double play. Baker, who allowed three base runners and got just one out Thursday, then surrendere­d a leadoff double to Austin Riley.

After a lineout, Hyde called on Coulombe, the veteran lefty who Baltimore traded for at the end of spring training. Coulombe entered with a 2.38 ERA in 11 ⅓ innings, but he also stumbled Thursday by allowing two runs in ⅔ of an inning. He missed his spot on his 1-0 fastball to Pillar, who deposited the center-cut heater 405 feet to left field. Pillar, 34, entered with a career OPS of .704 — far worse than his .868 mark against the Orioles, the highest of any team he’s tallied more than 100 plate appearance­s against.

“Life of a reliever, you’ve got to have a short memory,” Coulombe said.

Hyde also didn’t turn to closer Félix Bautista in the eighth as he did at times last season, citing the health of the also-frequently used right-hander.

“We have five months to go, so health is important, and not overusing guys is important,” Hyde said. “Right now, I’d prefer not to use Félix before the ninth inning, and maybe as we go along, we might change. Cano, he’s pitched a ton for us so far. We have other guys in the bullpen that have been throwing the ball well, and they’re gonna get opportunit­ies.”

Bradish battles

Bradish said Saturday’s crowd at Truist Park — announced attendance of 41,454 — was probably the largest he’s pitched in front of in his young career.

“The atmosphere they have, I know it’s a Saturday night, but you don’t really get that this early in the season,” Bradish said.

Bradish went back and forth with Strider, perhaps the best strikeout starting pitcher in the majors. Bradish pitched two scoreless to open the game and allowed one run in each of his final three frames. He gave up a solo home run to Marcell Ozuna in the third, an RBI single to Eddie Rosario in the fourth and an RBI single to Ronald Acuña Jr. in the fifth.

A few of his innings could’ve turned sour, but Bradish, who allowed 10 runs in his previous two starts combined, buckled down each time. The right-hander allowed five hits and three runs while walking two and striking out four in five innings.

“That was something that I’ve really been working on mentally, getting those jams and being able to get out of them,” Bradish said. “Being able to limit the damage, I was really happy with that.”

Strider, meanwhile, struck out 10 batters for the eighth time in his career and extended his streak of eight-plus strikeout starts to 11. The Orioles worked several long counts against the hard-throwing righty to bounce him after five innings of two-run ball.

Who’s on first?

Ramón Urías, that’s who.

The Gold Glove-winning third baseman who also has experience playing shortstop and second played the first game of his career at first base, and he made an impressive play to save an error.

Bradish fielded a dribbler with two outs in the fourth, but his throw to first was slightly off. Urías, who started nine games at first base in the minors, looked like a natural as he came off the bag and tagged Ozuna out. The slick play from Urías, who borrowed Ryan Mountcastl­e’s mitt to play the position, potentiall­y saved the Orioles a run or two.

“He played really well over there,” Hyde said. “Ramón plays with a ton of confidence defensivel­y. His reaction last night when I talked to him about it is what made it easy for me. He had no concern of going over there.”

Urías said before the game that it was “kind of weird” when he was asked to move over to first base to serve as Mountcastl­e’s backup for the night, but he accepted the “challenge” of fielding a position he hasn’t played since 2019.

“Every time the team needs something like this, I’m cool to do it,” he said.

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